Climate researcher gets ERC Starting Grant

Geologist Nele Meckler works on reconstruction of past climate conditions. She has now received a Starting Grant from the European Research Council to build her own research group at the University of Bergen.

A foraminafera shell, used by geologist Nele Meckler in her climate research.
LOOKING FOR CLIMATE CLUES: New ERC Starting Grant recipient Nele Meckler specialises in reconstructions of past climate using cave rock and ocean sediments, including foraminifera shells, like this ammonia tepida shell from San Francisco Bay.
Scott Fay, UC Berkeley

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Nele Meckler views the ERC Starting Grant (StG) as an opportunity to pursue a risky project for a sufficiently long time to have good chances for success.

Her background is in environmental science and geology. She specialises in reconstructions of past climate using ocean sediments and cave rock (stalagmite) as archives.

“I reconstruct past temperatures in the ocean and on land on a variety of timescales, from a few thousand years back to millions of years, to better understand the processes and their connections within our complex climate system. Ultimately, these insights will allow us to make better predictions for future climate change under rising levels of greenhouse gases,” says Meckler, before explaining what she has received the ERC grant for.

 “I will work with a new geochemical technique to reconstruct past temperatures, called ‘clumped isotope thermometry’, which has only been developed over the past 10 years. I have worked with this method already for a while, first at the California Institute of Technology, where it was originally developed, and at ETH Zürich.”


Impressed by expertise in Bergen

The climate researcher is currently at ETH Zürich, but will move to Bergen and the University of Bergen (UiB) in January 2015. She will be working at UiB’s Department of Earth Science and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research.

“The Bjerknes Centre is famous and a great environment for this kind of research. Actually already as a student, when I was looking for a PhD project on this subject, I contacted someone in Bergen, but there was no project available at that time. I am now very much looking forward to becoming part of this dynamic community of researchers,” she says.

“During my visits I have been impressed every time by the breadth of expertise assembled in Bergen and I really enjoy the collegial atmosphere. In turn, I can bring a new technique to Bergen that will also be of great value for other research groups, so we can benefit from each other.”


Great news for UiB research environment

“To get a talented young researcher like Nele is wonderful news for the department. She represents outstanding professionalism combined with a collaborative spirit, employing new ideas and approaches to research,” says Professor Gunn Mangerud, head of UiB’s Department of Earth Science.

According to Mangerud, Meckler’s research goes straight to the heart of the department’s strategic goals.

“We have emphasised cutting-edge research in palaeoclimatology and to seek opportunities through new methodological approaches. Nele does both. We are already in the process of facilitating the purchase of new equipment and the building of lab facilities so that she can get off to a flying start,” says the department head.

Mangerud also stresses that the ERC grant is important overall for the climate research environment in Bergen.

“Having a ERC Starting Grant researcher at our department is something that benefits all of the climate research groups in Bergen. It helps to further develop the field and it adds state of the art research. Nele’s project is not only positive for us at the Department of Earth Science, but it is also important for all the participants in and around the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research,” she says.

Mangerud hopes the department’s increased focus on securing external funding and the arrival of Nele Meckler will contribute to securing more ERC grants for the department in the years ahead.

UiB’s Rector Dag Rune Olsen is also excited about the ERC StG recipient soon arriving in Bergen.

“Climate research is a trademark of the research environment in Bergen. When a researcher of the calibre of Nele Meckler brings her ERC Starting Grant to UiB, this is beneficial to all of the research conducted at the university,” says Rector Olsen.


Preparing for Bergen

Meckler has been preparing for her January arrival in Bergen, where she first plans to set up the facility needed for her project – a mass spectrometer – within the stable isotope lab at the Department of Earth Science, which is headed by Professor Ulysses Ninnemann.

“This will take a while, but I can profit from the infrastructure and expertise already available. Then I will focus on improving the method for small sample amounts, together with a postdoctoral fellow, and in collaboration with my current research group at ETH Zürich. Once we know how successful these modifications are, we can start analysing the shells we pick from the sediments. We will also need to do a few validation studies, to make sure we get the correct temperatures,” says Nele Meckler.